Khalifa Fund to nurture Emirati tech entrepreneurs



The Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development will help to produce a new generation of Emirati tech entrepreneurs, its chairman said.
An initiative to be launched this year aimed at the fast-growing technology sector will encourage and support the growth of small businesses, said Hussain Al Nowais.
From software and app development to gadgets, entrepreneurs can apply for financing, training and support from the fund as it branches out into new areas of the economy in its eighth year.
Innovation and new ideas will be key as the fund looks to enhance the sector in the UAE.
"Tech is going to be a priority. If we get good projects we will fund them all," Mr Al Nowais said.
Discussions have begun with universities around the country to help find "brilliant young men and women" as well as with the UAE's telecoms sector, including the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, to help create the right infrastructure to support technology start-ups, Mr Al Nowais said.
The telecoms operators du and Etisalat are competing fiercely in the small business market which is 250,000 to 300,000 SMEs in the UAE, according to du.
Both have introduced innovations including cloud-based services to woo customers.
The UAE was ranked 36th last year in a world innovation index by Insead, leading the region as its efforts in promoting education and R&D paid off. However, it still lags in creating a more competitive business and regulatory environment, according to the study.
High smartphone use and the popularity of social media in the UAE is encouraging entrepreneurs to build businesses in areas including crowdfunding, e-commerce and online services. But funding issues remain, especially from the lack of a mature venture capital landscape.
A fast-growing online retail sector is still relatively small. A lack of players and a cash-dominated region are holding back its development, according to Aramex.
Last year, Dubai said it would invest Dh4.5 billion to create an innovation hub to attract and support tech companies.
The Khalifa Fund had financed about 800 projects by the end of last year, providing Dh1 billion in loans as well as training, logistics, marketing and systems support.
This year it will speed up approval processes via automating its systems and also provide entrepreneurs with digital tools to help them carry out feasibility studies and create business plans, Mr Al Nowais said.
New legislation for the SME sector is aimed at increasing its contribution to non-oil GDP to 70 per cent from the current 60 per cent level.
malrawi@thenational.ae
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